Clearing the Fog

It was foggy. She stood there, frustrated with herself. She had no idea where she was. She must have taken a wrong turn somewhere back there because she thought she was heading back to the house but it seemed to be eluding her. The fog was so dense, she couldn’t see much around her. Alone and getting lost in a thick blanket of fog was not her idea of how to spend a pleasant Sunday morning. What was she going to do? Well, there wasn’t much she could do except wait until the fog dissipated. How long that would take, she had no clue. It seemed so strange to see such thick fog in the middle of summer. This is England, she reminded herself. Anything is possible when it came to the weather. Sighing, she leaned against the tree and waited.

 

Earlier this morning when she had looked out of the window there wasn’t any sign of fog or she wouldn’t have ventured outside. Instead, she would have slept in a little longer or gone to the library to read one of those interesting books she found there. Everything about Pemberton Place was interesting. This was her second week at the magnificent, Gothic mansion rising above the beautiful, sprawling grounds that seemed to stretch for miles and miles. She was here at her friend’s invitation.

 

Maggie grew up and lived here most of her life before she moved to London where she attended university. It was at university that they met and became fast friends. She usually spent the summer in London with family but this time Maggie insisted that she accompany her to Pemberton. Excited and nervous at the same time, she agreed to go. It was a nice change to spend the summer with her friend and her family.

 

Pemberton was everything she had imagined and more. Maggie had told her so much about it that she felt as if she knew the place. It was massive and it reminded her of somewhere like Pemberley, Thorncliff or Manderly. She couldn’t imagine living there–it struck her more as a tourist attraction than a private home. And there were lots of servants. She didn’t know how Maggie could remember all of their names. And so many rooms. One could easily get lost. And she did a couple of times.

 

She smiled as she remembered going into the library when she had meant to go to the drawing-room. Instead of facing a huge fireplace with crackling fire licking the logs she faced an enormous bookcase filled with books. Forgetting her dilemma at the moment, she walked over to the shelves of books, her eyes traveling over the thick volumes, textbooks, Encyclopedias and literature. Her eyes spotted a collection of writings by Jane Austen. She was about to pull it out when she became aware that someone else was in the room. She turned.

 

It was Rupert, Maggie’s brother. She had heard a lot about him but nothing prepared her for their first meeting.

 

First of all, he didn’t look too pleased to see her there in the library. She had been about to go over to him, extend her hand in greeting but the scowl on his face kept her immobile. “I don’t believe I know you,” he said, quickly closing the distance between them. He stopped a short distance from her, his green eyes searching her face, his expression quizzical.

 

For a moment she was distracted by his looks. Tall, swarthy, raven dark hair with a few strands falling across his forehead. He was incredibly handsome. He was dressed casually in a white shirt and grey slacks. “I’m Darcy, Maggie’s friend from university.” She held out her hand and it was clasped in a firm grip. “It’s good to meet you, Rupert. Maggie has told me so much about you.”
He released her hand but his eyes stayed on her face. “She did mention that she was bringing a friend to spend the summer holidays here at Pemberton.”
She glanced around the room. “You have a very fine library here,” she commented. “I was on my way to the drawing-room but ended up here instead. I’m glad I did. I was looking at the books when you came in. I saw several that I would like to read. I hope you don’t mind me being here.”
He turned away then. “You are free to come in here whenever you want,” he said. “However, this is the time when I usually come here to catch up on my reading and I like to be alone. To get to the drawing-room, just turn right and it’s at the end of the hallway.” He went over to one of the book shelves and took down a large book and walking over to the armchair, he sat down. He opened the book, signalling that their conversation was over. She turned and walked out of the room, thinking to herself that he and Maggie were as different as night and day.
That was several weeks ago. Since then, they hadn’t interacted much and when they did it seemed stilted.   She remembered one afternoon on the grounds when she was taking photos.   As she stood among the shrubs,  Maggie took a photo of her friend.   When they walking back to the house, they ran into Rupert who was on his way out.   Maggie showed him the photo she had just taken of Darcy.   “Lovely photo, isn’t it?” she remarked.   Darcy was wearing the pale green lace top and a navy blue capri.

 

He looked at it and then he looked at Darcy.   “Yes, it is.”  He agreed.  He gave the camera back to Maggie and abruptly excused himself.  Darcy felt embarrassed about the whole thing.  It was obvious that Maggie was trying to set her up with her brother but it was obvious to Darcy that he wasn’t interested.   It seemed like his admission that she looked lovely in the photo was rather forced.

 

“I don’t think your brother likes me,” she remarked to Maggie one day when they were strolling in the garden.

 

Maggie looked at her, surprised. “Really?” she exclaimed. “I rather thought he did. Why do you think otherwise?”
She was sorry she mentioned it. Shrugging, she said, “It’s just the feeling I get. I could be wrong.”

She changed the topic. And no more was said about it.  She hoped that Maggie wouldn’t say anything to Rupert.   She had tried not to let his animosity toward her get the better of her but it really bothered her. Why didn’t he like her? What had she done to make him resent her so? Even now as she thought about it, sadness filled her.
As a Christian, she always tried to get along with people, no matter how difficult. It wasn’t always possible. Yet, it never troubled her as much as this did. If she were honest with herself, she would admit that the thought of Rupert not liking her crushed her because she liked him. She liked him very much–in fact, she loved him. Unrequited love. She never imagined it would happen to her.

 

The sound of a twig snapping startled her and she turned in the direction of the sound. The fog was clearing and she saw Rupert approaching her. She moved away from the tree and turned to face him. In a few quick strides he was standing in front her. His face was flushed and his eyes stormy as they searched her face. “You have been gone so long that you have everyone in the house worried about you,” he informed her in a cold, clipped voice. “Maggie begged me to come and look for you. Why didn’t you come back to the house once you saw how foggy it was?”

 

With him standing so close, it was hard to concentrate. She took a step back. “It wasn’t that bad when I came outside and I thought it would clear up,” she said. “I walked to stretch my legs. I went farther than I planned to and I got lost. I decided that I would wait here until the fog cleared up. I’m sorry you had to come and look for me.”

 

He ran his fingers through his hair. “Well, I’m relieved that you are all right,” he conceded, somewhat reluctantly. “Shall we go back to the house now? I’m tired. I was in bed when Maggie came and asked me to come and look for you.” He turned away.
“Why don’t you like me?” she had to know. It was eating her up inside.
That stopped him in his tracks and he swung back to face her. “You think I don’t like you?” he looked incredulous.
“Yes. You are cold towards me and you barely say anything to me or acknowledge me when we are in the same room.”
He was staring at her now, his expression one she had never seen before. “You have no idea,” he muttered. “Do you know that I didn’t enjoy the London Symphony Orchestra last night because I couldn’t stop thinking about you? You filled my mind. Driving back here from London was worst. I had the radio on but I didn’t hear it. Thoughts of you drown out the music. When I got in it was late and even then, I couldn’t sleep because it was hot and muggy. I went for a walk and when I got back it was after one. It took a while to fall asleep.  So, I’m tired now because of lack of sleep and from fighting my feelings for you.”

 

She stared at him, aghast. “You have feelings for me?” She felt as if this were a strange dream and that at any minute she would wake up and find herself either in bed or in the library in one chairs where she had fallen asleep over a book she was reading. Rupert couldn’t be here, standing in front of her and telling her that he had feelings for her.

 

He moved closer to where she was standing. “Darcy, I have been pushing you away and avoiding you because of the feelings you stirred in me. Feelings I have never experienced before and that scared me. I didn’t want to deal with them or with you. Coming out here just now and finding you when I was worried that you had somehow wandered off the grounds and gotten lost, brought those feelings to the surface. I wanted to take you in my arms and hold you tightly, because I was relieved to find you here still on the premises.”

 

Her heart thudding, she moved closer. “I can do with a hug,” she said.
In a matter of seconds he had closed the distance between them and she was wrapped in a tight embrace. “I’ve been such a fool,” he murmured. “Can you ever forgive me?”
“Yes, Rupert, yes.” She closed her eyes, basking in his embrace and thankful that she had been wrong about his feelings for her.
He drew back and their eyes locked for a moment before he lowered his head and kissed her.
“Let’s go back before they send a search party out for us,” he suggested softly when he drew back moments later.
She nodded and smiled when he reached out and took her hand, his fingers closing around hers.  They walked back to the house, the fog had lifted. Everything was clear now.

Black woman standing among trees smiling

 

Unexpected News

“What is all the commotion?” Isabel asked as she removed her bonnet.  She could hear excited voices in the drawing-room.  She didn’t dare go in.  “Is Elsie in trouble again?”  Elsie was her youngest sister.  She was a bit of a wild one, always managing to get herself in trouble and sending their mother in a tizzy.

Amelia shook her head.  “No, it’s not Elsie this time.  It’s Mr. Hornby.”

“Mr. Hornby is here?”  Isabel felt her heart lurch.  She ran her hands over her hair and smoothed the skirt of her dress.  “Has he been here long?”  If she had known that he was coming over this afternoon, she wouldn’t have gone for a walk.

“Not long.”

“Why is Mr. Hornby the cause of such commotion?”

“It seems that Mr. Hornby has decided that he wants to move to Canada.  He had considered the possibility for a very long time.  He sails next month.”

Isabel felt the color drain from her face.  “He’s leaving for Canada?  Next month?”

Amelia looked at her in alarm.  “What’s the matter, Izzy?” she asked.  “You have turned white as a sheet.  Are you not feeling well?”

“I–I need some fresh air,” she mumbled.

“But you just returned from your walk.”

“I need some fresh air.”

“Perhaps you should go and lie down.”

“No.  I need to go outside.”

“Would you like me to come with you?”

“No–I would rather be alone.”  She quickly made her exit, leaving Amelia standing there, looking perplexed.

Outside in the garden, Isabel burst into tears.  She couldn’t believe that Mr. Hornby was leaving England and—her.  How could he leave without knowing that she loved him dreadfully?

She had known him since she was child and he had always been so kind to her.  He never made her feel like a nuisance and when she was a teenager, he never treated her like a child.  They had very stimulating conversations and she looked forward to his visits.  He seemed to enjoy it when she played the piano and would sit beside her with the newspaper open in his lap, pausing from his perusal of it to compliment her playing. She loved to play for him and didn’t feel a bit nervous at all. Sometimes, they would take turns reading poetry.  She could have sat for hours just listening to him recite the sonnets and the works of her favorite poets.  He had such a marvelous voice.

She didn’t know exactly when her feelings for him had changed but one day when she went into the library and found him there looking through one of the History volumes, she realized then that she was in love with him.  It didn’t matter that he was twice her age. To her he was the most wonderful and handsome man she had ever known.  She cherished the time they spent together and the fact that she hadn’t heard of any romantic attachment on his part with anyone, she hoped that this might be in her favor.  However, that could all change now.

Why was he going to Canada?  Why so far away?  Will she ever see him again?

“Isabel?” She hadn’t heard him approach her and was startled when he materialized beside her.  “You are crying.”  He gave her his handkerchief.

She took it and wiped her eyes and her nose.  “Mr. Hornby,” she said.  “Amelia told me that you were here.”

He frowned.  “Why didn’t you come and see me then?” he asked.  “When I arrived I was very disappointed to learn that you weren’t home.   Why didn’t you join us in the drawing-room?  I wanted you to be there to hear my news.”

She felt the tears coming again and she turned away so that he couldn’t see her face.  “I heard the news,” she said.  “Amelia told me that you are going to Canada.”

“I suspect that Amelia wasn’t in the room when I asked your father permission to marry his middle daughter and to take her to Canada with me if she would agree to it.”

She swung around to face him, her eyes huge with shock.  “You asked my father to marry me?” she could scarcely believe this.

“Yes.  I must admit that at the age of two and forty, I never imagined that I would be asking a girl half my age to marry me.  Isabel, I am old enough to be your father but my feelings for you far from paternal.”

“Oh Mr. Hornby, I had hoped that you would come to regard me as I have regarded you for the past three years.”

“Then, you will marry me?”

“Yes!”

“And you have no objection to moving to Canada and being so far from your family?”

“I admit that I shall be sorry to leave them and the house in which I have spent the happiest years of my life but my future happiness is with you.”

Mr. Hornby smiled and brushed his knuckles against her cheek, his eyes filled with the love that had long dwelt in his heart.  “I shall resolve to make you as happy as you have made me, Isabel.”

“I cannot imagine being happier than I am at this moment, Mr. Hornby.”

“Please call me Nigel.”

“Nigel.”  His name came out as a laugh and a sob as she was overwhelmed by the sheer happiness of this moment.

victorian gentleman and young lady at piano